Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Je Suis Charlie — I Am Charlie

Last Wednesday's gruesome attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical weekly magazine in France, sparked outrage and shock among supporters of what has been described as the thing terrorists fear most: freedom. The massacre inspired the hash tag #JeSuisCharlie (I Am Charlie) on social media to show support for freedom of expression and solidarity with the victims of the office massacre. On the other hand, the barbaric act of terror enjoyed some muted support from those who think the magazine crossed a red line. Charlie Hebdo divides opinion even in the wake of a massacre in its Paris office.

On January 7, 2015, an attack on the office of Charlie Hebdo left 12 people dead, mostly journalists - as victim obituaries show. The attack sparked a three-day manhunt that culminated in the killing of three suspects after hostage crises and a massive police operation.

French authorities described the Charlie Hebdo attack as an act of terror, and it is believed to have been motivated by Charlie Hebdo's satirical depiction of the prophet Mohammed in publications.

Now, the facts of the attack are undisputed. Differences lie in responses to the attack.

There are those who think the writers and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo deserved what they got because they repeatedly offended a cross-section of the Muslim community by mocking the prophet Mohammed. This argument is, I think, misguided.

Some have argued that freedom of expression is a double-edged sword: cartoonists have the right to express themselves, and their audience also have the right to express disapproval of their work. An absurd argument, given that murder, in my opinion, is not a legitimate expression of disapproval in a civilized society.

In my view, the attack was a gruesome and disproportionate response to satire. It is unjustifiable. Anything other than complete and absolute condemnation of the attack amounts to support for the act of terror. Hence the way I see it, those blaming Charlie Hebdo for "provoking" the attack are indirectly showing [muted] support for cold-blooded mass murder. Some people in this category "condemn" the killings, but their use of of the word "but" after passive condemnation is revealing.

There are those who think Charlie Hebdo cartoonists "baited extremists" and brought murder on themselves. Perhaps they believe that ridiculing some of the absurdities of religion should be punishable -- maybe not by death, but should be punishable.

Personally, I would not depict the prophet Mohammed -- or any religious icon for that matter. Neither would I post any potentially offensive material on my blog or elsewhere. It is a personal principle evidenced by my blog rules and regulations. However, I would defend the right of anyone who chooses to do otherwise -- although I would advise against doing so because, as I stated in a 2011 article about a Danish man found guilty of racism against Muslim men, there is a fine line between free speech and hate speech, which is punishable by law in some countries.

I believe people should not be forced to uphold religious standards they do not believe in. To illustrate -- if Christianity says Jesus Christ should not be drawn or depicted the rule should apply only to Christians. Non-Christians should not be forced to comply. This is in line with the principle of freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Some of cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo are pretty shocking and provocative to some viewers. As noted by NPR, some of the cartoons go well beyond standards of offensive material. However, I share the view that "no one deserves to die just because he's rude, crude or otherwise obnoxious."

I AM CHARLIE because I oppose what the brutal attack of 1/7 seeks to achieve: terrorize the public and impose an Islamic norm on non-believers. In truth, I would probably not be Charlie if the massacre had not happened because some Charlie Hebdo cartoons are, well, in poor taste.

It was Voltaire who said, "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

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